The poignant saga of Guatemala’s adoption industry: an international marketplace for children, built on a foundation of inequality, war, and Indigenous dispossession.
In 2009 Dolores Preat went to a small Maya town in Guatemala to find her birth mother. At the address retrieved from her adoption file, she was told that her supposed mother, one Rosario Colop Chim, never gave up a child for adoption—but in 1984 a girl across the street was abducted. At that house, Preat met a woman who strongly resembled her. Colop Chim, it turned out, was not Preat’s mother at all, but a jaladora—a baby broker.
Some 40,000 children, many Indigenous, were kidnapped or otherwise coercively parted from families scarred by Guatemala’s civil war or made desperate by unrelenting poverty. Amid the US-backed army’s genocide against Indigenous Maya, children were wrested from their villages and put up for adoption illegally, mostly in the United States. During the war’s second decade, adoption was privatized, overseen by lawyers who made good money matching children to overseas families. Private adoptions skyrocketed to the point where tiny Guatemala overtook giants like China and Russia as a “sender” state. Drawing on government archives, oral histories, and a rare cache of adoption files opened briefly for war crimes investigations, Rachel Nolan explores the human toll of an international industry that thrives on exploitation.
Would-be parents in rich countries have fostered a commercial market for children from poor countries, with Guatemala becoming the most extreme case. Until I Find You reckons with the hard truths of a practice that builds loving families in the Global North out of economic exploitation, endemic violence, and dislocation in the Global South.
A staggeringly brilliant work of the heart and the head. One can’t read Nolan’s story of forced adoptions in Guatemala and not come away both shaken and intellectually challenged. I’ve read many books on Cold War political violence—but never one that pulls you in, that makes you feel as well as think, as much as this tour de force.
Like a dark historical fairy tale pulled from a bewitched archive, Until I Find You illuminates the Guatemalan international adoption trade’s cruel corruption and heartrending complexities in a boldly original way. Nolan’s meticulous research and her beautifully lucid, empathetic writing show how the seemingly benign event of the foreign adoption of an innocent child leaves behind an invisible trail of personal, economic, political, and essentially imperial horrors.
Important, compelling reading. Nolan has interviewed countless people, obtained access to adoption files, read the human rights reports, and sorted through the legal history. This will become a key, authoritative account of the deeply corrupt state of Guatemalan adoption from the 1970s to the 2000s.
With a historian’s eye and a journalist’s pen, Nolan delves into the dark heart of Guatemalan adoption, a powerful story of state genocide, brutal economic and racial inequality, and a privatized, unregulated adoption market. Revealing the fuzzy boundaries between coercion and consent, legality and illegality, markets and trafficking, facts and rumor, she shows how the extraordinary violence of war gave way to the everyday violence of peacetime—and how children, especially Indigenous children, have been victims of both.
Hugely ambitious. With painstaking research and deep sensitivity, Nolan addresses an important and little-studied topic, getting close to stories that are often shrouded in secrecy.
- 320 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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